Fire is primordial and elemental as it has always been part of the psychic and material existence of human beings. Traditional cultures learnt to live with fire and to control it with, for example, Australian Aboriginal people doing so over ten of thousands of years despite living in a fire-prone environment and a gradually drying climate. Under the impact of anthropogenic global warming in the Anthropocene, fire is once again becoming a life-enemy and is ‘out of control’. Even with the use of technologies such as fire-bombing aircraft, well-equipped fire-trucks and thousands of human firefighters, wild-fire is now capable of consuming all living beings and life forms in its path. Moreover, fire is now occurring at scales, within seasons and in places that are unprecedented in modern history. In this presentation, I will explore what I call, the ‘psychoterratic’ or psyche-earth dimensions of fire and smoke in a rapidly warming world. The direct impact of wild fire on people is devastating and terrifying, an emotional experience I have named ‘tierratrauma’. As the fire is extinguished and people return to desolated home landscapes they also experience ‘solastalgia’, defined by me as the lived experience of chronic, negative environmental change. The emotions of fire and smoke are now being openly discussed world-wide as the transformative power of fire is unleashed for all to see and ‘death smoke’ crosses the boundaries of national states. It is easy to see the ecological and economic costs of wild fire, yet it is a lot harder to see the emotional costs on humans and non-human beings. It is time that we once again looked directly into the flames in order to repair our burnt-out emotions.
Glenn Albrecht retired as professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia in June 2014. He is now an Honorary Fellow in the School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney. He was at the University of Newcastle as Associate Professor of Environmental Studies until December 2008. He is an environmental philosopher with both theoretical and applied interests in the relationship between ecosystem and human health, broadly defined. He has pioneered the research domain of ‘psychoterratic’ or earth related mental health and emotional conditions with his concept of ‘solastalgia’ or the lived experience of negative environmental change. Albrecht is a pioneer of transdisciplinary thinking and, with Higginbotham and Connor, produced a major book on this topic, Health Social Science: A Transdisciplinary and Complexity Perspective (Oxford UP, 2001). He now works as a ‘farmosopher’ on Wallaby Farm in the Hunter Region of NSW, whilst continuing to research and publish in his chosen fields. His next scholarly book, Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (Cornell University Press), is due to be released in May 2019.
The Butterfly Kiss: #3
This paper is the third in a series called The Butterfly Kiss which looks at the process, role and impact of contemporary arts practice in dealing with the fractures borne from the lived experience of people and place. Positioning creative practice as an open ended and responsive examining of the poetics of care within our communities, The Cad Factory encourages arts practice to bear witness to, contribute to and respond to the thresholds and tensions, blends and blurs (Seigworth, Gregg 2010) of the lived experience. Guided by the MAP (Materiality, Affect and Performativity) of communities and of cross disciplinary arts practice, The Cad Factory positions itself in what Anna Tsing might call “Zones of Awkward Engagement” in order to engage with and contribute to various communities. This presentation examines a body of work that address complex issues from multiple perspectives centering around the project Specimen. This is a project in collaboration with The Australian Institute of Anatomy Specimen Collection from the National Museum of Australia. These Specimens in jars lack any detailed records of their origin, rendering them eternally dislocated from their own histories, from the timescales and landscapes in which they lived. Instead they sit preserved in toxic formaldehyde. Many of the specimens represent species heavily impacted by human activity. By projecting photographs of their ghostlike presences back onto the landscape, Specimen invites audiences to attend to and consider their relationship with their natural environment and its non-human community. In Australia these images were projected back onto the landscape from which they were removed, in the UK they were projected onto places connected to the colonisation of Australia. Animated by place, the final photographs render these specimens both present and absent in a changing environment.
Vic McEwen is the Artistic Director of The Cad Factory, an innovative arts organisation based in the regional NSW town of Narrandera. His practice involves working with sound, video, installation and performance with a particular interest in site-specific work. Vic is interested in working with diverse partners to contribute to and enrich broader conversations about the role that the arts can play in exploring difficult themes within the lived experience of communities and localities. Vic was the 2015 Artist in Residence at the National Museum of Australia, the recipient of the Inaugural Create NSW Regional Fellowship 2014/16 and has shared work internationally in the UK (Tate Liverpool) and Lithuania (National Gallery of Lithuania). He sits on the NSW/ACT Arts and Health State Leadership Group, is a board member of Music NSW, holds a Masters of Arts Practice with High Distinction, a 1st Class Honours of Creative Practice (Fine Arts) and was the 2017 recipient of the Executive Deans Award for Academic Excellence.